Buckminster Fuller

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Buckminster Fuller : biography

July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983

Geodesic domes

Fuller taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina during the summers of 1948 and 1949, serving as its Summer Institute director in 1949. There, with the support of a group of professors and students, he began reinventing a project that would make him famous: the geodesic dome. Although the geodesic dome had been created some 30 years earlier by Dr. Walther Bauersfeld, Fuller was awarded United States patents. He is credited for popularizing this type of structure.

One of his early models was first constructed in 1945 at Bennington College in Vermont, where he frequently lectured. In 1949, he erected his first geodesic dome building that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits. It was 4.3 meters (14 ft) in diameter and constructed of aluminum aircraft tubing and a vinyl-plastic skin, in the form of an icosahedron. To prove his design, and to awe non-believers, Fuller suspended from the structure’s framework several students who had helped him build it. The U.S. government recognized the importance of his work, and employed his firm Geodesics, Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina to make small domes for the Marines. Within a few years there were thousands of these domes around the world.

His first "continuous tension – discontinuous compression" geodesic dome (full sphere in this case) was constructed at the University of Oregon Architecture School in 1959 with the help of students.The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller. ISBN 0-385-01804-5. These continuous tension – discontinuous compression structures featured single force compression members (no flexure or bending moments) that did not touch each other and were ‘suspended’ by the tensional members.

Best-known work

For the next half-century, Fuller developed many ideas, designs and inventions, particularly regarding practical, inexpensive shelter and transportation. He documented his life, philosophy and ideas scrupulously by a daily diary (later called the Dymaxion Chronofile), and by twenty-eight publications. Fuller financed some of his experiments with inherited funds, sometimes augmented by funds invested by his collaborators, one example being the Dymaxion car project.

World stage

International recognition began with the success of huge geodesic domes during the 1950s. Fuller lectured at NC State University in Raleigh in 1949, where he met James Fitzgibbon, who would become a close friend and colleague. Fitzgibbon was director of Geodesics, Inc. and Synergetics, Inc. the first licensees to design geodesic domes. Thomas C. Howard was lead designer, architect and engineer for both companies. From 1959 to 1970, Fuller taught at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU). Beginning as an assistant professor, he gained full professorship in 1968, in the School of Art and Design. Working as a designer, scientist, developer, and writer, he lectured for many years around the world. He collaborated at SIU with the designer John McHale. In 1965, Fuller inaugurated the World Design Science Decade (1965 to 1975) at the meeting of the International Union of Architects in Paris, which was, in his own words, devoted to "applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity." Later in his SIU tenure, Fuller was also a visiting professor at SIU Edwardsville, where he designed the dome for the campus Religious Center.

Fuller believed human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable sources of energy, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity. He hoped for an age of "omni-successful education and sustenance of all humanity." Fuller referred to himself as "the property of universe" and during one radio interview he gave later in life, declared himself and his work "the property of all humanity". For his lifetime of work, the American Humanist Association named him the 1969 Humanist of the Year.

In 1976, Fuller was a key participant at UN Habitat I, the first UN forum on human settlements.